Pride of a different sort: Disabled Italians parade in Rome

  • >> Elisabetta Povoledo, The New York times
    Published: 2019-07-15 16:00:37 BdST

Disabled Italians held a pride parade on Sunday in Rome, whose cobblestone streets are notoriously difficult to navigate. The New York Times

Italians from around the country paraded through Rome’s ruins and its most prominent shopping street Sunday in a loud and lively celebration of people with disabilities, a group that remains largely unseen in the country.

“An inclusive world is a better world,” Carmelo Comisi, the founder of the event, said. “Italian culture has to be changed.”

According to a 2017 report by Istat, the national statistics agency, there are about 3.2 million disabled people in Italy, most older than 65. Of those under 65, about half do not receive public assistance, and rely entirely on family members, the report said.

Vito D’Aloisio, president of a Florence-based association for disabled people, was at the parade on an electric wheelchair that he was given through the Tuscan health services. Tuscany, he said, is far more responsive to the needs of people with mobility issues than many other regions.

“That said, you can never stop fighting for your rights,” D’Aloisio declared. “It’s always go, go, go, because if you stop, you risk losing them.”

Marching bands, theatre groups with a mix of able and disabled actors, and various associations swelled the ranks of the parade.

Groups representing the deaf participated to “ask the government to recognise sign language as an official language,” said Luca Rotondi, president of one association. Italy is one of the few European countries that has not done that, he said.

Vincenzo Zoccano, the Italian Cabinet undersecretary responsible for disability issues, marched at the head of the parade. Zoccano conceded that Italy had a long way to go to fully meet the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities. But he said Italy’s new coalition government was moving in the right direction.

“Employment for persons with disabilities is our biggest emergency, as well as assisting the caregivers who look after them, most often family member said Zoccano, who is blind.

The first Italian Disability Pride Parade was held in 2015 in Ragusa, Sicily — the hometown of Comisi, who lost the use of his legs 23 years ago in a scooter accident. Since that first parade, the organisers have held marches in Palermo, the Sicilian capital, in the southern city of Naples, and, starting last year, in Rome.

The Italian celebrations are timed to coincide with the Disability Pride Parade in New York, also held Sunday.

“There’s a horrible history of being hidden in institutions, of keeping people locked away, of parents hiding children and keeping their disabilities private,” said Mike LeDonne, organiser of the New York parade. “We’re trying to break away from all that negativity.”

Rome, like many cities in Italy, was built centuries before zoning regulations considered mobility issues, and presents many difficulties for the disabled. But unlike other cities, the capital has a municipal manager whose job is to improve access for the disabled.

The manager, Andrea Venuto, said Rome posed unique historical and architectural challenges, including the cobbled stones — known as sanpietrini — that hamper mobility. In 2013, director Bernardo Bertolucci even made a short video about the difficulties of using a wheelchair on the sanpietrini.

“Rome lives on thousands of years of history, so it’s clear that in many buildings, the theme of accessibility is difficult,” Venuto said. “But that’s not an excuse, and the fact that I have been appointed shows that the city is serious about dealing with the problems.”

Rome’s mayor, Virginia Raggi, last month announced a plan to remove the stones from highly trafficked streets.

Experts say Italy has some of the most advanced legislation in Europe to promote the rights for the disabled, but that those regulations are widely ignored by local lawmakers. “There’s a lot of uneven application of our laws,” said Zoccano, the undersecretary.

The Sunday parade ended with a concert, including a deaf rapper, in the Piazza del Popolo.


© 2019 New York Times News Service